2015 Alpine Challenge

RAF Benson makes its mark on the annual RAF Alpine Ski & Snowboard Championships

The 2015 RAF Alpine Ski and Snowboard Championships were held between the 10th and 24th of January in the twin Austrian resorts of Saalbach-Hinterglemm. With a ski area of over 200km it has runs for all levels of  experience. The Championships are open to absolute beginners and experienced skiers/ snowboarders alike; offering formal instruction to beginners and encouraging all personnel to make the transition from recreational skiing and snowboarding to competitive racing.

20 personnel from RAF Benson, ranging from absolute beginner to ‘seasoned athlete’ (their words, not mine!), participated in the cold, harsh snowy delights of the 2015 RAF Alpine Sports Championships. A short flight from Heathrow brought us to Munich, where we were met by a coach to make the 3hr drive across the border to Hinterglemm, Austria. Having been held here for many years, the system is incredibly efficient. We were quickly transferred to our accommodation and given all the details we needed to rent our equipment for the week.

The Alpine Champs are open to people of all skill levels. Some choose to do lessons and others choose to get some practice in before the races; there’s plenty to keep everyone occupied whether you’re a seasoned sultan of the slopes or strapping waxed plastic to your feet for the first time. As a snowboarding beginner I participated in group lessons, led by an RAF instructor. These lessons proved to be tremendous fun and taught new skills in a natural  intuitive way. Short breaks for lunch, or to catch your breath, gave a great opportunity to stop and look around at the amazing views. Your entry level will determine the level of exposure you get to the mountains. However, even the most novice groups were carving (or cartwheeling) down the mountain on blue runs by race week.

The opportunity to race is open to all levels and offers a great experience to the world of competitive racing. A variety of races were available, dependent on ability, and included Improver Races, Fiacaill Races, Inter-Station and Individual Races.

My race of choice, given my ability (or lack thereof!), was the Improvers Snowboard Giant Slalom. The course, taking place on the ‘blue’ Bergfried piste, consisted of 20 gates and a vertical drop of 110m. The professional set up, including electronic timing gates and a dozen or so marshals and race officials, made me feel, however briefly, like I was ready to take gold at the Winter Olympics. Sadly, my own ambition of securing gold ended at gate number 4, where I attempted the unorthodox method of utilising my face as a braking mechanism. Although effective it didn’t do much to help my time (or my looks!). Regardless of my final position however, it was an excellent way to prove to myself just how far I’d come after only a few days training.

I must congratulate everyone from Benson who trained and raced throughout the two week Championships. It is a testament to our instructors that, although a relatively inexperienced group of skiers and snowboarders, everyone performed gallantly, displaying courage, determination and tremendous team-spirit with many participating in the races.

The Championships culminated with the prize giving ceremony and team presentations in the Alpine Palace Hotel. Although Benson personnel just missed out on some of the awards on offer this year, the 2015 RAF Winter Sports Alpine Championships were an overall success developing team-spirit and camaraderie throughout the diverse group that attended.

Here’s looking forward to the 2016 Champs already!

For more information regarding Winter Sports, particularly the 2015 RAF Artificial Championships and 2016 RAF Alpine Championships, please contact Winter Sports OIC, Sgt Mark Culpan.

Ladies Ski Improvers Giant Slalom
Cpl Rachael McCormick: 4th

Mens Ski Fiacaill Slalom
Flt Lt Mathew Eldred: 4th
SAC Ben Braybrook: 5th

Ski Fiacaill Giant Slalom
Fg Off McRobbie-Smith: 5th
Sgt Mark Culpan: 7th
Fg Off Stephen Worth: 13th
SAC Matthew Sadler: 26th
SAC Michelle Allen: 33rd
Sgt Tina Smurthwaite: 35th

Mens Snowboard Improvers Giant Slalom 1
SAC James Crabbe: 10th

Mens Snowboard Improvers Giant Slalom 2
SAC James Penberthy-Gibbard: 11th
Sgt Jamie O’Connor: 14th

Ladies Snowboard Improvers Giant Slalom
Cpl Sarah Briggs: 5th
SAC Stacey Hadlum: 6th

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